Government

The 2011 Hun-Kah Session of the Second Osage Congress stretches its 24-day run to April 16. Congress has taken several legislative bills and resolutions into consideration along with considering confirmations for the Nation’s boards and commissions.

Here is a list of other business considered by Congress thus far during this Hun-Kah Session:

Raising the minimum wage for the Nation’s government employees being considered

Congress is considering a bill (ONCA 11-27), which seeks to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour for the Nation’s employees who are paid under that mark. Speaker Jerri Jean Branstetter is sponsoring the bill, which still faces a floor vote from the entire Congress.

If the bill is passed, the new minimum wage would not take effect until Oct. 1.

According to a Congressional fiscal analysis, approximately 50 government employees would benefit from the wage increase, if the bill passes. Those positions currently pay between $7.31 and $9.87 per hour. Branstetter said the positions are in the Nation’s day care facilities, Head start, Properties departments and others.

ONCA 11-27 originally calls for increasing the minimum wage again to $11.50 in October 2014, but the Congressional Committee on Government Operations proposed an amendment to move that date up one year to 2013 during a March 28 meeting.

The Osage Nation isn’t the only area tribe with a minimum wage higher than the federal level currently set at $7.25 per hour.   

The Cherokee Nation passed its own minimum wage act for its employees in 2006, which raised the level over a two-year period, according to an archived news release provided by the tribe. The most recent minimum wage level for the CN employees and its entities was set at $9 per hour in October 2008.

Jeff Jones reconfirmed as Attorney General

The Congress unanimously voted to ratify the confirmation of Jeff Jones, the Nation’s Attorney General, on March 23.

Jones was appointed by Principal Chief John Red Eagle and was unanimously confirmed by Congress on Jan. 25 during the Fifth Special Session. Despite the confirmation, Chief Red Eagle’s office expressed concern over the timing and argued the confirmation should have occurred during the Hun-Kah Session.

Congress expected the challenge from the Chief’s office of whether or not Jones could be confirmed during a special session but voted to confirm Jones anyway. Under ONCA 10-84 (the law establishing the Attorney General’s position), the AG’s office is independent and not under the Executive Branch.

Congresswoman Shannon Edwards made the motion to ratify the confirmation. “I noticed that we got another appointment of Mr. Jones as Attorney General and there was some conversation about whether our confirmation in special session was proper, so this action seeks to ratify the previous action.”

Jones was appointed by Principal Chief John Red Eagle and was unanimously confirmed by Congress on Jan. 25 during the Fifth Special Session. Despite the confirmation, Chief Red Eagle’s office expressed concern over the timing and argued the confirmation should have occurred during the Hun-Kah Session.

Before the vote, Congressman Geoffrey Standing Bear commented: “I’d point out that the Chief Justice of the United States (John Roberts) . . . when he swore in President (Barack) Obama, they thought they might have made a mistake in reading the oath, so they had a second swearing-in out of the public eye. So it’s best to make sure everything’s taken care of if someone has a question.”

The motion passed with 11 votes while Speaker Jerri Jean Branstetter was absent during that day’s session. Standing Bear was referring to the “do-over” of President Obama’s swearing-in, which took place in January 2009, one day after his historic inauguration, the New York Times and other media outlets reported.

Revised Attorney General’s office budget passed by Congress

Congress is considering several budgets for amendments and additions during session, which includes an updated budget for the Attorney General’s office with proposals for two more staff members working for Jones. ON Police Officer Brian Herbert, who has been serving as project manager for implementing the Nation’s sex offender registry, will also move into the AG’s office as an investigator still charged with handling the registry matters in addition to handling probation/ parole matters.

In the updated budget, Jones is asking for an assistant attorney general and a paralegal to help him staff the office and represent the Nation in legal matters. Both positions along with Herbert’s are proposed with six-month salaries until the 2011 fiscal year ends in September.

Congress unanimously passed ONCA 11-36 on April 1, which includes the amended budget for the AG’s office as well as the Tax Commission and Archives department.

Congressional attorney: 2009 motor pool bill pocket vetoed by former Chief Gray is law after all

Later during the March 23 session Edwards motioned for a Congress committee-of-the-whole to discuss the status of a 2009 bill (passed by the First ON Congress establishing) a motor pool for the government (GSA) vehicles owned or leased by the Nation. At issue is whether the bill was pocket vetoed by then-Principal Chief Jim Gray.

The bill (ONCA 09-68) was sponsored by then-Congresswoman Faren Revard Anderson (now senior executive adviser to Chief Red Eagle) and was introduced during the Seventh Special Session of the First ON Congress.

ONCA 09-68 does not specifically call for a moratorium or cap on the number of GSA vehicles the Nation may operate but notes: “A motor pool will allow the Osage Nation to reduce the number of vehicles it owns for government use, as well as reduce the related insurance and maintenance costs.” The Executive Branch may establish policies and procedures consistent with the bill to administer the motor pool, according to ONCA 09-68.

Edwards asked Congressional attorney Loyed “Trey” Gill about the bill’s status, which he reported to Congress.

ONCA 09-68 “was passed on Oct. 5, 2009… on that same date, the session was extended until Oct. 8, so the last three days of session were (Oct.) 6, 7 and 8,” said Gill, “the fifth was actually a Monday. Chief Gray, at the time, claimed he was able to make a pocket veto of the legislation. Although if you read the Constitution carefully, it specifically states you can only pocket veto in the last three days of a session . . . Since the fifth was on the outside of the final three days, (Gray) did not have the ability to pocket veto it. He never returned the legislation, but nonetheless, does not keep it from being law.”

Edwards said she questioned ONCA 09-68’s status for clarity since at least one budget was being considered during the Hun-Kah Session with a proposed GSA vehicle purchase. A memo detailing Gill’s report has been filed with ONCA 09-68.

Congress approves request for report of OFPR activities

Also on Day Three, Edwards made a motion for the Congress to receive a written report of activities conducted by the Nation’s Office of Fiscal Performance Review (OFPR), before the Hun-Kah Session ends.

The motion passed 11-0. The OFPR is an entity, established by law in 2007, charged with conducting audits to provide Congress with examinations and assessments of the Nation’s government entities.

The OFPR was also the subject of an ON Trial Court lawsuit filed by then-Chief Gray who questioned whether OFPR’s duties violated the separation of powers section of the Constitution. Speaker Branstetter announced in October 2010 that the OFPR lawsuit was dismissed by a stipulation of the parties. At his Aug. 4 inauguration, Chief Red Eagle said he would seek to dismiss the OFPR lawsuit.     

Congressional appointments set for Gaming Commission appointees on April 11

The Congress will consider Fred Beartrack and Doug Revard for the Nation’s Gaming Commission during its April 11 session.

Speaker Branstetter issued a written letter to Chief Red Eagle’s office on March 28 advising him of the plans to confirm Beartrack and Revard and requested resumes on both men by April 7 so the Congress members may have time to review them. The letter comes in the wake of the Hun-Kah Session’s first day when motions to confirm Beartrack and Revard were tabled due to no resumes provided beforehand.

The Congress will also consider confirmations for the Nation’s Election Board during the Hun-Kah Session.